While some leaders look through microscopes, those with a Global Leadership Mindset™ are adept at using a variety of cognitive tools to ensure they see and utilize both detail and concept. This mindset is a particular way of perceiving, making decisions and forming relationships. A global mindset rejects simplistic and deterministic ways of thinking that range from biological (brain structure and activity) to ethnic, regional, tribal and so on. Rather, it is holistic, more like a kaleidoscope.
Curiosity, rational thinking, and pure emotion allow elements that may seem disparate to come together into a whole. It is changeable and assumes that knowledge can and must continually expand if an enterprise, or an individual, is to be more than a one-hit wonder.
A Global Leadership Mindset™ amplifies the value of knowledge and experience while going far beyond what either can provide on its own. It enables leaders to maintain excellence in both content and context as they form relationships based on mutual interest and understanding. They make it easy for people to do business with them.
Content AND Context Wins
Content is what a business does- the products and services an organization provides. Context is everything else including culture, decision-making, people, processes, platforms, supply-chain, marketing and so forth. Everything that causes, creates, delivers, or modifies what a company has to offer.
The dimensions of content and context have a bi-directional and geometric impact on one another. The decision by a person in management at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York to ship an item rather than allow an employee to walk 3/10 of a mile to deliver it, is an example. One lame decision doesn’t sink a business but here’s the effect over time:
- The employee, whose impulse was to respond to a mistake by immediately rectifying it, was quashed. A motivated employee is either going to leave such an employer or remain but with far less enthusiasm and initiative.
- The business accrues costs, needlessly. Shipping a $32 item at a cost of $7.50, plus the employee effort it took to prepare the item to send, multiplied by the number of times such actions are taken is not insignificant.
- The annoyance factor, experienced by the customer? Great enough that the story gets repeated.
Leaders who think globally, that is about content and context, see the big picture. These leaders know that great products are diminished when the context isn’t congruent. These are the leaders who avoid crisis caused by blindness because they work hard to avoid the over-confidence (normal cognitive trap), or arrogance (defect in ones self-perception) that fuels it. Others will be surprised when customers flee, results slip and a private investor shows up at the fire sale with a very large axe.
Amazon is a high content, high context company even though some would say they are “low-touch.” This is the brilliance. They use technology to personalize our experience, annoyingly so at times. Their content and context are congruent.
Apple is a high tech and high touch company. Design matters to Apple and it should. Sleek design reads “smart.” Have a problem with your device? AppleCare is there to help. I’ve called them more than two dozen times and only once was I disappointed.
Content married to context, as with both Apple and Amazon, is powerful. Content and context that is incongruent is disappointing.
Saks Fifth Avenue is a high-content business. Yet, the context is variable. They have beautiful stores in high-end locations and some of the merchandise is, indeed, jaw-dropping…the result of decisions made by their development team (context) and the buyers (content.) For example:
Yet, a lovely item in the store quickly loses its appeal if the people working in the shoe department are staring at their cellphones. Yes, I’ve seen it. It led me to a different store where I bought a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes (not the ones in the photo.) Is it a problem with the people? Yes, but beyond that, the issue is leadership. Failure to understand that relationships matter is failure to understand context.
Toys-R-Us failed to understand that customers would not keep coming to the store if doing so was no more a valuable experience than ordering on-line. Once the decision has been made to order online, the possibilities are vast and are not limited to a single source.
In the category, organizations with high content, and low context are commodities. Yet, even here, a company like QuickTrip has managed to make buying gasoline far more appealing than it once was. How about Waffle House? The context may not be your cup of tea, but you can be very certain what you will get and for what price. The congruence of content and context is vital, not just the level. The Four Seasons and the Waffle House have in common, this congruence, though the two are very different.
Low context and low content predicts bankruptcy.
What is Global Leadership Mindset™?
The essence of a Global Leadership Mindset™ is the enthusiastic pursuit of intellectual breadth that manifests in both intellectual and highly pragmatic ways. Such a mindset enables leaders to keep content and context at high levels over time, despite the natural gravitational pull or the false belief that businesses must choose one or the other.
Despite good intentions, conditions conspire to draw attention to distracting details. For example, while real differences in culture exist, we find that they are often exaggerated or blamed for business issues when a simpler explanation of leadership failure is more valid.
Our most successful clients, Diana’s and mine, are able to accept geography, culture, and habit. They think beyond stereotypes. They look for shared experience among people and address macro needs, regardless of how they define their market. They are astute at observing and predicting secular trends. Indeed, they defy the “specialize or die” aphorism. They are broadly curious, enthusiastic and devoid of arrogance.
Leaders who exhibit a Global Leadership Mindset™ identify shared experiences and common ground. They don’t follow the trends; they create them.
During our discussion, we invited executives to share their name, company and one place from their travels that had inspired them. With each contribution, others nodded in recognition, agreement or anticipation. Whether it was the vibrancy of Istanbul, the appreciation of ‘home’, or the vitality of Vietnam, our perception of each speaker expanded. They were not constrained by job titles. Their view of one another was determined by what they learned directly. The session concluded and several animated groups remained.
Leaders are expected to do things they have never done before and in completely new contexts. Whether you are providing services externally, expanding locations and customers, closing down unprofitable ventures, exporting or importing talent, the leader can shape the context in a way that helps people understand their part in the enterprise.
First impressions create lasting residue. What is yours? Meeting people by greeting them in their own language communicates more than friendliness. It conveys respect for their origin and culture. It conveys thoughtfulness. Once people see that you are genuinely curious, they will share. The leader who does this sends a meta-message of collaboration, not colonization.
This positive first impression allows the possibility of a shared agenda and meaningful work. Leaders who create this sense of purpose have the capability to build and sustain a company with high content and high-context over time with a pool of talented people who may be different in many ways but who will work together towards a common objective.
How do you develop Global Leadership Mindset™?
- Take Dan Pink’s advice about design magazines. Buy them and peruse.
- If you are naturally attentive to content, practice paying attention to context. Head to a bookstore or newsstand and buy five magazines focused on design. Interior design, landscape design, textile design, etc. Spend time looking at the magazines without any agenda whatsoever. Wallow.
- Be a customer of your business. Go to your company website and see what it’s like to navigate, find information or place an order. Frustrated? Happy? Why?
- If you are more attentive to context, ask yourself the following: Ideally, how would we determine what to offer, to whom, in what way?
- Identify the part of your business that is doing the best. Who is #1? Visit them and find out why.
- Smash the box. If you are saying, “think outside of the box,” you still have a box in mind. Blow it up. Ask, “what if?”
- Travel, speak with and share ideas with leaders who are not in your business, industry, geography or demographic. Attend my next event, for example!
Do you find yourself focusing more on contex or content? Why do you think that is? Share your answer with me in the comments.